In the Shadows in the Attic / by Jo Hardy

Cast:

SOPHIE, 15 years old
KATIE, 16 years old
ANNABELLE, a 16 year-old Victorian girl
MISS EDWARDS, Annabelle's Governess
JANE, Annabelle's Maid

Two modern girls, Sophie and Katie, who are sisters, meet a Victorian girl, Annabelle in their attic room. Annabelle is a ghost, but there is a mystery to her: why is she seemingly trapped in the attic? What happened to her when her angry father discovered her secret liaison with William? The mystery is partially shown by Annabelle, who enacts parts of the story, with her maid, Jane, and her governess, Miss Edwards. The rest of the mystery is discovered by the sisters. The piecing together of the last part of the puzzle enables the ghost to find freedom at last.

An ideal play for GCSE, this gives good scope for all five characters and for some atmospheric design work. A good design, including imaginative lighting and sound, would enhance the play considerably, though if this is not possible, it could be performed more simply.

Running time: approx 25 minutes.

Sample Pages from the script

Extract 1

The time is the present. The scene is a dingy attic room. There are a few boxes and some broken chairs. In the background is a large trunk, covered with some old cloths and cushions. The cobwebs tell us it is a neglected room.

Annabelle, wearing a Victorian-style dress, sits on one of the chairs, holding an old photograph frame containing a sepia picture of a young man.

ANNABELLE reflectively, only vaguely addressing the audience
Sometimes it seems as if it happened a long time ago - like a dream - but I remember every detail so clearly. Especially that last time: sitting with William on the grass and enjoying the sunshine. We were very much in love and we had so much hope. I always believed he would come back to me one day.

I don't know how much time has passed, but it is too long since I saw the sun, and too long since I enjoyed William's touch.

And yet I still believe. I still believe that one day he will come back to me.

She puts down the picture frame and moves out of sight.

SOPHIE off-stage
... and then you expect me to believe there's a ghost in the attic! [Enters.] A real live ghost... [Thinks.] ... well, a real dead ghost I suppose. [Katie appears as if through a trap-door.] Honestly, Katie. I wish you were right. We could have ghost parties and...

KATIE
Sophie, will you be quiet?! Annabelle is a well-brought-up young lady who doesn't want to hear...

SOPHIE looking round
Where is she then?

KATIE
She's not here all the time. She...

SOPHIE
Oh great. A part-time ghost.

She sits on a large trunk and Katie joins her.

KATIE
She's really different. Victorian. She doesn't even sound the same as we do. And there's something about her, something really sad. She had this lover... well, she still has, really, because she thinks he will come back.

SOPHIE
Lover? I didn't think Victorian girls had lovers.

KATIE
She wasn't supposed to. [Annabelle has walked out of the shadows and is standing behind them.] She had to meet him in secret because of her father. They had this romantic last meeting and then William went away and ...

ANNABELLE
He never came back. But he will. One day he will return.

Katie jumps up and looks round.

SOPHIE
Stop trying to frighten me ... went away and what? ...

KATIE
She's here. Behind you.

Sophie squeals and jumps up but sees nothing.

SOPHIE
That was not nice, Katie. For one split second I believed you.

The next section is a cross-cut conversation between the three girls.

ANNABELLE
She can't see me.

KATIE
Why?

SOPHIE
Because you were really convincing. You should take up acting.

ANNABELLE
Because she is too afraid.

KATIE
She's all right really.

SOPHIE
Who is?

ANNABELLE
Is she?

KATIE turning to Sophie
I was talking to Annabelle. [Turning to Annabelle.] Yes, Annabelle, honestly. You can trust her.

SOPHIE beginning to be frightened
Stop it, Katie. You're spooking me out. A joke is a joke, but... [She stops as she realises Katie isn't listening. Instead, Katie is staring at Annabelle who is crying quietly.]

KATIE
What happened, Annabelle? Tell us about it.

SOPHIE
Look, I don't think you should...

ANNABELLE
I couldn't conceal it any longer.

KATIE
The baby?

SOPHIE
What!?

KATIE ignoring her
Who found out?

SOPHIE
I don't like this, Katie...

ANNABELLE
My father. The maid told him...

KATIE
... about the baby....

SOPHIE
Will you please stop going on about...

KATIE to Sophie
She was having a baby.

Extract 2

JANE
Miss Annabelle, your father has sent for you.

ANNABELLE thinking quickly
Thank you, Jane. Will you tell my father I will be down after I have rested? I have a headache. [Jane hesitates.] That will be all for now, thank you, Jane.

JANE
I'm sorry, Miss Annabelle, but your father told me I was to accept no excuses, begging your pardon. If you don't mind my saying so, Miss, he seemed angry. [She hesitates again.] He ... he said ...

ANNABELLE
What did he say, Jane?

JANE
He said, 'I hope she has an explanation for me. If not, she is no longer my daughter.' I'm sorry, Miss, but I thought I ought to tell you. It ...it was frightening to see him angry like that.

ANNABELLE urgently
Jane. I need you to help me. I can't face my father like this. I need you to tell him I'm very ill and ...

JANE
I'm frightened to go to him, Miss Annabelle.

ANNABELL
E Jane, you haven't told me everything, have you? [Jane hangs her head.] What do you know, Jane?

JANE obviously terrified
It wasn't me, Miss. It was Mrs Hughes. She asked me if I thought ... if anything ... She's the Housekeeper, Miss Annabelle, and I had to tell her because she said she would dismiss me if I didn't and I need...

ANNABELLE
Tell her what, Jane?

JANE
About the sickness, Miss, and the clothes not fitting properly. She already knew, but she made me tell her...

ANNABELLE
How long have you known about this, Jane? About my ... condition?

JANE
I didn't know, Miss, I just guessed. Our Sally had a baby, last year, and she was sick like you were. I just thought ... but I didn't say anything, honestly I didn't.

Extract 3

It is still the attic room, but looking more like it would have done in Annabelle's day. Annabelle is sitting at a table with a young, smart woman - Miss Edwards.

ANNABELLE reading
'For never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo.' Oh, Miss Edwards, that story is so sad and so beautiful. I really thought Juliet would wake up and they would live happily together...

MISS EDWARDS
I know. I felt exactly the same way the first time I read it. I was willing them not to be parted. But that, my dear, is the nature of tragedy. And you can't really complain. Shakespeare told you in the first scene that they were both going to die.

ANNABELLE
Yes, I know, but I hoped it would be later. They were never given time to truly know each other at all.

MISS EDWARDS
It could be argued that one single perfect night together was better than a lifetime of growing apart from each other ... becoming indifferent.

ANNABELLE
They would never have done that! Not Romeo and Juliet! They would have been happy for ever.

MISS EDWARDS smiling
You make it sound like a fairy tale.

ANNABELLE
It is a fairytale. [After a very slight hesitation.] Miss Edwards, my father said that if I got a good report for my studies this week he would allow us to walk in rhe park on Sunday afternoon. Have I deserved a good report, Miss Edwards? I've worked really hard.

MISS EDWARDS
You always work hard, Annabelle. Be assured I will tell your father how well you are getting on.

ANNABELLE
Miss Edwards, have you ever been in love?

MISS EDWARDS flustered
Why, really, Annabelle. What a question! Your father would not approve of you asking such questions.

ANNABELLE
I know. I'm sorry. I forgot my manners. Please accept my apologies - [Miss Edwards smiles.] - and don't tell father.

MISS EDWARDS
It shall be our secret. And the answer is 'yes'. Yes, I have been in love.

ANNABELLE
Miss Edwards! Was it like Romeo and Juliet? Was it a tragic love story?

MISS EDWARDS
I suppose you could call it that. Daniel and I were going to be married after he came back from the war. He went overseas and promised me that he would come back a hero with a fortune.... [There is a reflective pause.] He never came back.

Extract 4

SOPHIE
You're early. Annabelle's been here.

KATIE
Early? It's eleven o'clock! Oh, Sophie, he's such a romantic kisser... Annabelle? Did it frighten you?

SOPHIE
Kissing? What was it like? Where were you?

KATIE
Sitting in the park. It was almost dark - no lights except for the street light on the corner. We sat together and kissed and I wanted us to just stay there for ever. I would have done, except that Mum said I had to be in by eleven. I'm seeing him again tomorrow. Oh, Sophie, he's gorgeous! I'm so happy!

SOPHIE
Oh, it isn't fair. You're going to go around being soppy all the time and you'll be out every night and I'll be on my own.

KATIE
You've got Annabelle.

SOPHIE
You know, Katie, I don't think Annabelle realises she's dead. She keeps saying she's waiting for William to come back.

KATIE
I wonder if that's what ghosts do? Wait for other ghosts, I mean. I think you have to do something to make them disappear. Exercise them or something.

SOPHIE
I've been reading about it. It's called exorcism - but that's only for evil spirits. Annabelle isn't evil, is she?

KATIE
I don't suppose so, but she is a ghost, isn't she? I might want to bring Josh up here sometime. What will happen if she breezes out of the shadows? Poor Josh will have a heart attack.

SOPHIE
Tell him.

KATIE
Oh, yes! 'By the way, Josh, we have a ghost in our attic.' He'd run a mile!

SOPHIE
Annabelle must have lived here in this house around the turn of the century. I'm going to try to find out about her... and William.

Sample Pages from Production Notes

INTRODUCTION, THEMES, THE PLAY'S INTENTION

Mainly, this is a murder-mystery, which uncovers a dreadful deed in the same house in which modern girls, Sophie and Katie, now live. Scenes which lead up to the murder are enacted by the sad trapped ghost of Annabelle and the 'ghosts', brought into being by the fact that Annabelle is trapped in the past, of her governess, Miss Edwards, and her maid, Jane. There are two climaxes to the play: one, where Annabelle recalls her father's anger and his hitting of her, after which she remembers nothing until she becomes aware that she is back in the 'attic' waiting for William's arrival - something she has been doing ever since. By this means we understand that Annabelle's father killed her - albeit probably accidentally - and has concealed her in the attic.. The second climax is the end, where the two modern girls realise that the old trunk in the attic is where her body must still be.

The contrast between the life of Annabelle and the lives of the two modern sisters enable the play to dwell on the differences between the relative freedom of the two periods. Annabelle is not allowed to meet her young man, William, and is being forced to marry an older cousin, James, because he is rich. Comparison is made between Annabelle and William and Romeo and Juliet, which Annabelle is studying with her governess. In contrast, Katie and Josh are allowed to meet in the park and kiss quite openly. Many of the scenes between the two sisters, and between Sophie and Annabelle, serve to highlight the contrasts more, and the relative freedom of the modern teenagers.

CHARACTERS

SOPHIE, 15 years old. Sophie is the younger sister of Katie, but with only a year between them, the two sisters are very close. Katie is more advanced in the boyfriend stakes but otherwise, they are almost like best friends.

At first sceptical, Sophie is in the end the one that Annabel chooses to reveal herself and her story to more readily. Perhaps Katie is too wrapped up in her own romance to be of as much use to Annabelle. The moment of the link between Sophie and Annabelle comes through their mutual understanding of the parallel between the two Victorian lovers and the doomed pair, Romeo and Juliet. From that moment on, Annabelle appears more readily to Sophie and Sophie herself becomes obsessed with finding out what happened. She uses modern knowledge - the internet and her history teacher's resources to find out facts that neither Annabelle nor anyone else could have done, so it is she that pieces together the puzzle and ultimately allows the ghost to be free. She is tenacious, quick-witted and a sympathetic character.

KATIE, aged 16 is the older sister and the one who first discovered the ghost. It is as if Annabelle had tried to establish a link first with her and then, realising Sophie was more likely to get results, she switched focus. Katie is a 'typical' girl of her age: she is interested in clothes and hooking 'Josh', the 'drop-dead gorgeous' boy who has asked her out. Once she has switched the whole of her attention to this budding romance, her interest in Annabelle wanes. She is happy to follow Sophie and the results of her investigation but she does not instigate anything. Annabelle and her fate are not her priorities.

Her role is more to show the contrast between the two meetings in the park: hers with Josh and Annabelle's with William. She is not an unsympathetic character, but her obsession with Josh, general dreaminess and scatty behaviour should be emphasised to show the difference between the two sisters.

ANNABELLE, aged 16, is the same age as Katie, which is probably why she first appeared to the older sister. This age similarity helps to emphasise the contrast between the two 16 year olds and their respective romances. An unspoken 'theme', which can be inferred, is that William and Annabelle, forced to conceal their love, get into trouble and create a child, whilst Josh and Katie, allowed more freedom and therefore under less pressure [or different pressures, but that is not what the play is about!] are far more innocent in their meeting. Or, perhaps Annabel's fate could serve as a warning to the modern couple.

Annabelle is obviously a good pupil but is also a lonely person, forced to rely on her governess and maid for company. She is romantic and sentimental. Her romantic nature is what leads her into trouble, causing her to create links for herself between her situation and that of Romeo and Juliet.. However, though this may seem naive, it is obvious a sincerely felt link; the 'star-crossed' lovers of Shakespeare's play even lend the idea of the star wich acts as a link between the separated lovers, Annabelle and William. Annabelle must be seen as a genuine lover and William, who we never meet, too. The memories of her love must be played with sincerity rather than sentiment, to carry them off.

For Annabelle to have a governess, her voice should probably be 'posh', though not overdone: 'received English', as it is known, that is accentless.

MISS EDWARDS, the governess, is still quite young - a woman who lost her own loved one in an unspecified War - Crimea? Boer? More likely the former, perhaps. Deprived of a future as a wife and mother, Miss Edwards has had to recourse to being a governess. Her youth make her a sympathetic teacher for a young girl. She seems at war with her own desire to treat the lonely young girl as a friend or younger sister and her understanding that she ought to keep herself at one remove - the teacher. When she realises that something has happened to Annabelle she is firm and takes charge of the situation, bolstering up the more fearful Jane.

Miss Edwards should speak in a cultured, softly-spoken voice. To emphasise her decision to do what is right, her voice should be quiet, slow and firm.

JANE, the maid, is also a young woman, perhaps about the same age as Annabelle herself. This gives her a sympathetic link with her young mistress. She is loyal to her, as shown by the fact that she tries to conceal her knowledge of Annabelle's pregnancy from the fearsome Mrs Hughes and from Annabelle's father. She is torn by her desire to help Annabelle and her fear of losing her position. Her more hysterical nature acts as a good contrast to Miss Edwards and should be played on in the scene they have together.

Jane should be played with an accent and perhaps a more breathy, eager way of speaking, to contrast with the others. She is quite excitable and could be played as a bit of a panicker.

SETTING

At first, I struggled with the ideas for this a little - I think I was seeing this attic room as the actual school-room where Miss Edwards taught Annabelle. Or was it her 'suite' - bedroom attached to school-room? And why would that be in an attic, which in those days would more likely have been the maids' rooms? Then I realised that Annabelle and the trunk create their own space. Because dead Annabelle, trapped in the trunk, has been stored in the attic, the appearance of the ghost brings to life the surroundings she knew around her. Thus it is only necessary to create a setting of an attic with enough space for lighting to create the illusion of other places super-imposed on the modern junk-room.

Since only one setting is required, you can go to town as much as you like. However, it is also possible to do very simply, should you require a quick strike of the set to enable other plays to be performed.

If you want to go the whole hog, you could create the idea of an attic with part of a back-wall and the suggestion of the low ceiling, partly built over the top. A jagged edge to this, as if partly drawn and unfinished gives the idea without forcing the need for a whole 'box-set'. Crowding round the edges can be all kinds of junk, both ancient and modern. The shapes of these discarded things should give heavy brooding shadows with the right lighting, to enhance a spooky effect. Be sure to leave a good space in the front centre, and, to create variety,build a [raised but invisible] space in the middle of the clutter, on which Annabelle can move - giving the illusion at times that she is floating. Appearing suddenly amongst the junk like this, especially at the beginning, will also help create a ghostly atmosphere. The space is simply a largeish raised area, the fact that it is raised being concealed by boxes and 'junk', including the trunk. The trunk, of course, must be prominent and covered with cloths and cushions, as suggested. It needs to be lit when the main playing area is, so must stand on the edge of this.

A simpler set can leave out the idea of the low ceiling and back wall, relying on lighting to make the same effect.

I think the idea of layers [raised platform or 'pathway] through the junk, is still a good one. It would help give variety and interest to entrances and exits and aid the visibility of the actors.

Have you got a trap-door in your stage? Could this be the entrance for the two girls, further enhancing the attic idea? Otherwise, the entrance for these two must be consistent - a creaky narrow door would be nice. However, the author clearly wants the idea of a trap-door, so another idea would be to have a gap amongst the junk on the other side of the raised playing area from Annabelle's space, so that the two girls have to appear from below and then make their way down to the front.

If desired, you can go to town on cobwebs and so on, easily available from party shops and fancy-dress hire places.

A couple of boxes and two broken chairs [not so broken as to be unusable] scattered in the main playing area complete the set requirements. These chairs need to look old, i.e. wooden not school plastic!